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God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. - James 4:6 (NIV)
We’re thinking this week about the message Jon shared Sunday about humility. It brought to my mind the late Alex Haley, the brilliant writer whose best-seller, Roots, greatly impacted American culture in the 1970s and beyond. In his office, he had a picture of a turtle sitting on a fence post to remind him of an important truth. “If you ever see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know he had help getting there,” he said. “Every time I’m tempted to be proud, I look at that picture and remember how I got to where I am today.”
None of us reach good places in our lives unless some very fine people help us along the way. Humble people understand that; proud people think they did it on their own. Which are you?
I did some reflecting this morning about all the people who’ve helped me over the years. I thought of my Aunt Joyce, who loved me unconditionally when no one else ever had… so much so that I began to think that a man named Jesus might be somewhat like her. I thought of Mr. Bishop, a high school sociology teacher who followed Jesus fervently and challenged me to do the same; then he discipled me, along with a few others, for two years. I thought of Mr. Hall, a Bible College professor who showed remarkable restraint and patience in the midst of my frequent rants about just about everything. I thought of a sales manager who introduced me to the ideas of excellence and self-leadership. And I thought about my wife, Linda, the best picture of Jesus I’ve ever seen.
I thought about all of them, and many more; then I wept. I’m so blessed, humbled, and eternally grateful. Gratitude and humility are inseparable, you know.
...but humility comes before honor. - Proverbs 18:12 (NIV)
Carroll was my best friend in middle school. He had a boatload of positive traits, but most notable was his humility. With many reasons to brag, he didn’t, ever.
We met in 6th grade band where we both excelled at playing alto sax. In those days, you were assigned seats based on musical proficiency. The best musicians sat in “first chair,” and their inferiors sat in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chair, etc. Each semester you could “challenge” the person ahead of you. It amounted to a musical duel, playing the same song behind a black curtain, and then the others anonymously selected the winner. Carroll was 1st chair; I was 2nd. I never missed an opportunity to challenge him… and I never won. There’s an absence of envy in the best friendships, but not ambition!
Carroll was always quick to give me a high five every time he trounced me. Occasionally he seemed to feel a bit guilty, but great musicians never compromise on excellence. He was just better than me… in many ways… always gracious, especially in victory. Perhaps that’s the greatest evidence of humility.
As you might expect, I was devastated when his mom called one summer evening to tell us that Carroll had accidentally drowned in a hotel swimming pool on their family vacation. I… was… stunned. It took me years to get beyond his death, but I suspect that even today, I’m not over it, nor will I ever be. It’s virtually impossible to forget people who made a deep imprint on our lives. For me, that was the guy in 1st chair, the truly humble guy, who let his saxophone and his talent do the talking; the guy who always defeated me, and always deserved to.
Ever lose a best friend? Only one thing might be worse—losing a child. Today my mind goes to Calvary where our elder brother, Jesus, bled and died, where Satan lost his final challenge, and where Jesus, the ultimate conqueror, won “first chair” forever. You can read about it here.Share Tweet
...you need to change…[or] you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. - Matthew 18:3 (NIRV)
It takes a lot of humility to change our minds, which is why we generally don’t. Most of us believe what we believe because someone we admired or respected taught us to believe it; then once we believe it, we stick with it… which is why there are hundreds of denominations in America these days. It’s also why we go into attack mode if someone challenges what we say we “know.” But change is a wonderful thing, as is the humility it takes to embrace it. The Apostle Paul was a great example… see Acts 9 for details.
A more modern example is Dr. Rosalind Picard, the brilliant scholar, inventor, and professor at MIT. For most of her life, she declared herself an atheist, dismissing Christians as “uneducated and naive.” But one day, she decided she should at least read the best-selling book of all time, the Bible. In her own words: “When I first opened the Bible, I expected to find phony miracles and assorted gobbledygook. But to my surprise, the Book of Proverbs was full of wisdom. I had to pause while reading and think.” I like that phrase, “pause and think.” I’ve done a lot of that in my own life and generally ended up in a better place.
Dr. Picard discovered a better place too. After reading the entire Bible twice, she humbled herself and confessed, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, my Savior and Lord.”
She describes the change in her life thusly, “I know now that I’d been an arrogant fool who snubbed the greatest Mind in the cosmos—the Author of all science, mathematics, art, and everything else there is to know.” Wow! You wouldn’t expect to hear that from such a brilliant scientist… unless she truly changed.
...If you don’t, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 11:3 (NIRV)
I love children, and particularly my four-year-old grandson! Once, we were playing “hide and seek,” and as I entered the room, he was laying on the floor in front of the couch—totally visible. So I hunted for about five minutes and finally exclaimed, “Oh, there you are!” He wanted to play again, of course, and “hid” in the same place!
I love childlikeness. So did Jesus. In fact, He said that people who aren’t willing to be childlike aren’t going to Heaven. There’s some debate as to what that means, but as we see in the verse that follows, the obvious point is that humility is a very important attribute.
I read a story recently about a woman visiting a city in India which was overrun with abject poverty. Among a squalid encampment, she saw a little toddler playing alone beneath a small canopy. Wearing only a stained, once-white T-shirt, the child was trying to make eye contact with anyone. Picking up a tin cup, she dipped it into a pot of stew, then poured it out on her curly dark hair and smiled… a child who saw the world, wishing someone in this world would see her and smile back.
It’s a sad story, but not unlike biblical times when children were largely ignored and mistreated. Many were abandoned, left to die. Some were sold into prostitution. Jesus found it all appalling, which is why He said, “If anyone misleads one of these little ones, it would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck.” Wow! That’s severe! “You mess with my little ones, and you’ll end up at the bottom of a river!” It may be one of the most frightening things He ever said. The next time you ignore, mislead, or mistreat a child, think about that.
Write down some characteristics that make childlikeness so refreshing; then ask the Lord to imprint them on your heart. I promise that’s a prayer He loves to answer.Share Tweet
God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. - Matthew 5:5 (NLT)
Perhaps the only thing worse than being proud… is being proud of being humble. Know anybody like that? They rattle off their accomplishments, then say, “But really, it was nothing.” Of course, if you were to agree with them, they’d be highly offended! Fortunately, people who are truly humble don’t do much pretending. Thomas Merton once defined humility as “being in the presence of man, exactly who you are in the presence of God.” Wow! That takes things to an entirely different level.
Merton was basically describing freedom, which is a perpetual desire to celebrate Jesus instead of ourselves. Those who cultivate that desire don’t usually obsess about their appearance, career, clothes, money, or knowledge. They also don’t exhaust themselves trying to cover up their considerable blemishes, internal or external. They’ve stopped fretting about becoming and chosen instead to just be. Big difference.
Andrew Murray said, “Pride must die, or nothing of Heaven can live in you.” I agree. Every other approach is futile. Here’s the miracle of it all: When we’re truly walking in humility, we won’t even think about it, and it won’t even matter. To say it another way, we'll be liberated from our greatest enemy: Ourselves.
Picture the most Christlike person you know. Got him/her in your mind? Now ask yourself, "What makes them so Christlike?” Two answers almost always come to the surface: (1) their humility, and (2) their passion for serving others. (My wife scores extremely high in both categories, which is why she’s saturated with humility). Ever wonder why you love to be around people like that? It’s because they remind you of Jesus. Sometimes we just see Him most clearly through others… especially the humble.